What is the point of a building? Without getting normative, its probably safe to say buildings are designed for those who will use it. New office buildings have large, column free spaces; art galleries are in many cases works of art themselves. How people will occupy and use buildings should inform everything about them.
The University of Technology, Sydney, my beloved alma mater, has been spending our student fees on a new set of buildings to inspire their next generation of students and staff. The appropriately binary building 11 was recently opened for the faculty of IT. Given how (relatively) well they renovated the former Fairfax building into Building 10, I had high hopes.
(Aside: I only learned what “alma mater” was after editing Wikipedia infoboxes. Also, what the difference between American fraternities and sororities are. Alpha cappa sandwich. Weird stuff).
UTS Building 11's interlocking binary steel plates, glowing lights and sharp angles sure present an imposing sight from the street. We're a technology university, take a look at our unapologetically modern new structure! It's a sight to behold, especially at night.
Unfortunately, in the architect's quest to leave an impression, its resulting internal design renders it utterly useless in its primary function as a university building. Namely, making it as easy as possible for students and staff to find the classrooms they're paying to attend, or being paid to teach in.
With escalators and stairs of differing lengths interlocking and sending wary, confused travellers different directions with each artistically mismatched floor, its neigh impossible to find anything. Staring up from the ground floor, the initial feeling of quirky fun gives way to the impression of cluttered, unorganised chaos.
There are still classrooms in the basement, harking back to those dark dungeon classrooms of the tower building. The sloping, bare concrete foyer is sterile, cold and slippery with even the lightest rain on one's feet; ditto the brown linoleum stairs that already look filthy.
In its quest to leave students inspired, our student fees have bought a building that fails in the primary way a university building can. I wouldn't call it a white elephant, but I can already hear the collective anguish and frustration of the thousands of students who will be subjected to this building's design for decades to come.